Okay, so I am repeating myself, but – I was looking at the Brooklyn Public Library website, and I noticed a benefit concert for the victims of the great Haiti earthquake. Which got me thinking.
The thing about US society which stands out to a Danish person is the distance between the well-off and those less so. Denmark is a rather flat society in comparison – while there is wealth in Denmark, the poverty is not great; while the unemployed are by no means wealthy, they are also not left to fend for themselves and receive a substantial grant. Those who aren’t able to make ends meet are usually people with a substance abuse or mental issues.
But there is a back side to this. In my home country, the state subsidy system leads to a perception that things are taken care of – which makes people less inclined to support issues outside of their own narrow sphere. We are committed to a supporting system – we pay high taxes – and are concerned whether the taxes are spent well – but it is also a mechanism placing a comfortable bareer between a person and the unpleasant aspects of life and society. Here, everyone is quite aware of what it means to be in an unprotected situation. A job means security in the sense that you can pay your insurance, keep your children in school and so on – but inversely, if you lose your job, it is so much more of a challenge here, which also goes a long way in explaining the way people are heavily networking – job hunting is just that. The emphasis on abilities and merit shows everywhere, too – my son’s daycare is considerably more active with teaching him things than we were used to back home, and I can feel it stimulating him. This is also a way to channel the curiousity and creativity of children, and that is not a bad thing, but a constructive one. My mother was teaching me to read long before I started school, and because I learned out of interest, I was well-equipped from an early stage. When I started learning adding and subtracting, my father explained multiplication and division to me – I remember it well, we were walking in the Julby forest – and this was such an interesting expansion of the mindset that I picked it up and played around with it. That is how I learned, and that is why Matthias will learn to pick up ideas he is presented with. I have no doubt that this schooling will equip him better for that.
There is a balance to it. I know a lot of Danish people who have come to a successful position in their lives through having tried a lot of things. People are not afraid to take a break or change direction, because the often-mentioned safety net is there. Here, people will have to hang on to their jobs, but they will also shuffle, changing directions to choose a safer and more profitable course. In Denmark, people will take a new job which is more stimulating and offer better conditions, often people mention greater responsibility; but rarely have I heard people talk about doing it for money. The tax levels mean that you will need a significant raise to be able to feel it – and since people are generally getting by, there is not much of an encouragement to go for that. Interestingly, Danes will appreciate an improvement at a 100 DKr ($20) cost considerably more than a raise of ten times that, since it gives the impression that the company is looking out for the employees.